THE ADVENTUROUS TYPE
Some people (like me) don’t like to travel in groups during their holiday. And definitely not in groups of unknown people. These people have a hard time on Spitsbergen. There is hardly any infrastructure to explore things with a car and you always have to watch out for Polar Bears. But there are some things you can do, if you have enough experience. As there are no roads outside or between the settlements the only options you have are planning your own hiking or kayaking trip. If you stay inside management area 10 you don’t have to ask permission from the Sysselmannen. If you plan a trip outside this area, you have to ask permission before departing on your trip. For this permission you need to show the proper insurance policies (e.g. one covering search and rescue operations in case something goes wrong) and show your safety regulations to prevent Polar Bear attacks. For more information, see the website of the Sysselmannen.
If you have enough experience, this can be a great way of exploring the islands. You are really part of the nature and are completely free to set your own goals. If you don’t have enough experience, it can be a great way of getting yourself in serious troubles.
If you plan on going on a longer trip, you have to remember that Spitsbergen is real wilderness area. As soon as you leave the settlements you are out on your own. If you meet any problems, you have to solve them by yourself. Because of this, I would not recommend a hiking trip on Spitsbergen for people who don’t have experience with hiking in remote mountain areas.
Another thing you have to take into account is that you have to bring all your food for the whole trip (or work with food depots). This, together with all the extra equipment you need will mean you’ll have a heavy backpack.
Also take into account that you need clothes for different weather conditions. Even though the average temperature in summer is somewhere between 5º and 10ºC, the temperature can drop to freezing and snowstorms can happen even in the middle of summer. Fog is quite common is summer and the wind can also be quite strong. On the other hand, I’ve also had several days with 15ºC and bright sunshine. So be prepared for different and quick changing weather conditions.
POLAR BEAR SAFETY
Everywhere you walk outside of the settlements you could meet a Polar Bear. The chances of seeing one in summer along the west coast are smaller, but several are seen every year. This means that you have to take your precautions against them. If you go out into the wild, you need to carry a rifle and know how to use it. There is no point in bringing a rifle without knowing how to handle it, in fact, that can be even more dangerous. Getting a rifle is not very difficult in Longyearbyen as you can rent them in several places. There is also a shooting range (up the mountain above the airport) where you can practice shooting with that rifle. Apart from bringing a rifle it is also recommended to bring other things to scare away bears like a flare gun.
Camping in Polar Bear country is always something special. The few mm’s of your tent do not give you any protection against the sharp claws of a bear, so you have to find that safety in other measures. There are two often used measures. The first is setting out a Polar Bear guard. This guard will stay awake during a part of the night, looking out for bears. If your group is large enough, this will be the safest measure, as you will see bears coming from a distance and have enough time to scare it away if he comes too close. Needless to say that in this case it is highly recommended that every person in the group knows how to handle the rifle.
Another option, and the only option for small groups, is a tripwire system around the tent. To this tripwire an explosive is attached that will explode as soon as something trips the wire. This way you will be warned if something (often a Reindeer) will come close, so you can take your precautions.
There are a couple of things that are not allowed. First of all, you are a guest in Spitsbergens nature, so please behave accordingly. Take nothing but memories and pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Read the common sense rules and try to behave accordingly.
You are also not allowed to make camp close to cultural remains. You have to stay at least 150m away from any huts, buildings or other remains.